By Benjamin Joe
Friday, Sept. 13, proved to be unlucky for the junior varsity volleyball team of Grand Island, the Vikings. Niagara-Wheatfield ascended to a 3-0 match against the Vikings, each set being close, but a win nonetheless for the Lady Falcons.
This continues their streak of wins through the season, but the girls’ coach, Gary Kochems, remained conservative in his estimation of the team.
“They’re improving. Every year they come to me and we do things that we didn’t do before,” Kochems said. ”So, we’re expecting the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing.”
The remark gives a significant look through the wall surrounding the Niagara-Wheatfield athletic program. In volleyball, at least, the driven students stay in junior varsity until junior year, at which time they are boosted into the varsity league. Last year, when the varsity Lady Falcons went all the way to be state finalist, it was proven by the time they are seniors, these athletes will have been indoctrinated with the fundamentals and incited to make the big plays.
“It’s not only whether we score the point or not,” Kochems said of the teamwork displayed by the JV team. “We don’t really talk about the lead, wins or not, but whether we’ve improved.”
In the match, the junior varsity team were dominant from the beginning. The first point was scored by Allison Failing who spiked the ball forcefully back to the Viking’s side after their serve. However, the next point was taken back by Grand Island after an extended volley. For several serves, the two teams battled back and forth, but the Lady Falcons expanded their lead until it was 7-10 Niagara-Wheatfield, the last point scored by Julia Kwitchoff.
“The interesting thing about Kwitchoff is she is only an eighth-grader,” Kochems said. “Every year, I’m looking at eighth-graders to see if they belong here.”
The trend continued throughout the first set, but in the end, the Falcons won that contest 25-23 when Jenna Pieper tapped the ball over the net and scored the game point.
The second set was much the same with the teams trading back and forth, but overall, Niagara Wheatfield was taking advantage of opportunities. Kochems explained the skill level of Danaka DiRenzo who saved the play several times, diving to dig the ball back up to the attack line.
“She’s like a designated passer, a designated defense player,” Kochems said. “So, she’s one of the players that after the school’s season is over, she plays on travel teams. You can tell which players are doing that, and which players are playing outside the school season.”
After gaining a four-point lead, the Lady Falcons faced a rally on the Viking’s part. From 6-2, Niagara-Wheatfield, the Grand Island team gained five points to Niagara-Wheatfield’s one, making the score 7-7. However, the Lady Falcons came back with a second win, 25-21.
For the third and final set of the match, Niagara-Wheatfield embraced fundamentals, culminating often times with Jenna Pieper attacking the ball from a set-up bump by Kwitchoff or DiRenzo. The tactic worked enough times that the Lady Falcons won the match.
“Let me tell you one more thing about volleyball,” Kochems said. “When you’re on the court, you’re going to have an opportunity to maybe do something amazing. Diving, hitting the ball up, blocking … but if you don’t do it as a team, you can have the best player out there on your side and you’re never going to do well, because it takes so many people working together. You’re hitting the ball three times, every time. I think that’s what captivates people when they start to play real volleyball instead of just hitting it back and forth over the net.”